Awesome Office365 Updates – But When Do I Get Them??

UPDATE 16th July 2020 – This month Microsoft has introduced a new channel for updates to the Microsoft 365 Apps (formerly known as Office365 ProPlus). This is the new “Current Channel” where updates are pushed out as soon as they’re available. You can read more about this here and there is the Microsoft Documentation on Channels here. The key table to understand I’ve included below:

Comparison of the update channels for Microsoft 365 Apps

The following table provides a comparison of Current Channel, Monthly Enterprise Channel, and Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel.

Monthly Enterprise
Semi-Annual Enterprise
Recommended use Provide your users with new Office features as soon as they are ready, but on no set schedule. Provide your users with new Office features only once a month and on a predictable schedule. For select devices in your organization, where extensive testing is needed before rolling out new Office features. For example, to comply with regulatory, governmental, or other organizational requirements.
Release frequency1 At least once a month (likely more often), but on no set schedule Once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month Once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month
Feature updates2 As soon as they’re ready (usually once a month), but on no set schedule Once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month Twice a year (in January and July), on the second Tuesday of the month
Security updates3

(if needed)

Once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month Once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month Once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month
Non-security updates2

(if needed)

Usually at least once a month (possibly more often), but no set schedule Once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month Once a month, on the second Tuesday of the month
Support duration for a given version4 Until the next version is released with new features, which is usually about one month Two months Fourteen months

My key point to make for educators would be:

We recommend the Current Channel for the latest/greatest updates, but the key message would be to ensure that your students and educators are on the same Channel so that they’re sharing the same features and there is no discrepancy in the experience.


Original Post:

In the lead up to ISTE 2019, there are some incredible announcements being made by the Microsoft Education team and I’m sure there will be more new features released at ISTE itself. Two that have really stood out to me in the last week were published by Mike Tholfsen and include:

  1. 30 Summer Updates for OneNote and OneNote Class Notebooks
  2. PowerPoint AI Presenter Coach

The second one, was announced this morning by Mike on Twitter:

You can see the summary video here:

The 30 updates to OneNote are incredible and go a long way towards making OneNote 2016 something that teachers can finally migrate away from, safely knowing their favourite features are now included in the Windows 10 UWP app, or on whatever platform they access OneNote on. Some of my favourite updates from this announcement include:

  • A return to very granular distribution of pages/sections:
    • Pages can be distributed to individual students only
    • Pages can be distributed to defined groups – great for reading groups, math groups, or those with special requirements e.g. audio notes.
    • Multi-page distribution – select specific pages to distribute in one motion
    • Distributing pages into specific sections inside of a Student’s notebook.
  • Lock LMS pages after a due date – great for assignments and knowing that a page has gone to read only, and students can no longer edit it.
  • Integration into Teams – such an important feature, and here at last! The ability to import older notebooks into their new notebooks inside of Teams for Education:

Import FRE from OneNote into Team

  • TurnItIn Integration inside of Teams is here – something I’ve written about before.
  • Generating math quizzes directly inside of OneNote based on a formula you’ve already written – so clever!

Generate quiz GIF 3.gif

  • Send to Outlook – Windows 10; a return of one of the most loved features from OneNote 2016, now you can easily send emails to OneNote from the Win10 app as well.
  • Publish Notebooks (Make it Mine) – allow teachers/students to publish their OneNote notebooks so that others can take a copy of them and add them to their own OneDrive.

The list goes on, and I really do encourage you to read the entire 30 which are here to find out which are of most interest to you.

That’s great – but when should I expect to see these updates?

Mike’s post indicated that a number of the updates were coming to the Office Insider program immediately, and others will be rolling out shortly. Nevertheless, there are some organisation level settings that may still impact when you receive these updates. For this reason, it’s worth knowing about:

  1. The Office Insider Program
  2. Update Channels for Office365 ProPlus

It’s important to remember that Office365 is a subscription service which means it gets more regular feature updates compared to the Office2019 suite (remember the Twins Challenge that showed the differences?). These updates can be pushed out monthly which is great for education where so many of the features improve student learning and save teachers time. Some organisations, however, prefer a slower release cycle to provide a consistent user experience and not overwhelm some users with new features and content.

The three update channels are explained below:

Update channel Primary purpose How often updated with new features Default update channel for the following products
Monthly Channel Provide users with the newest features of Office as soon as they’re available. Monthly Visio Online Plan 2 (previously named Visio Pro for Office 365)

Project Online Desktop Client

Office 365 Business, which is the version of Office that comes with some Office 365 plans, such as Business Premium.

Semi-Annual Channel Provide users with new features of Office only a few times a year. Every six months, in January and July Office 365 ProPlus
Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) Provide pilot users and application compatibility testers the opportunity to test the next Semi-Annual Channel. Every six months, in March and September None
The final channel is an important one as having a group of “targeted” users to experience the latest updates in advance of the majority of users allows for testing any compatibility issues as well as giving them a chance to train on the new features.
Update Channels.png

Visual representation of the update channels

How do you configure the update channels?

To configure the update channel for an Office 365 ProPlus installation, you can use the latest version of the Office Deployment Tool or use the Group Policy Administrative Template files (ADMX/ADML) for Office.

If you want to find out what channel you’re on, then open any Office365 ProPlus app (e.g. Word) and click File, then Account and you should see something similar to this:

Monthly Channel

Final Thoughts:

New feature updates are awesome and you can see that in the lead up to the new school year in the northern hemisphere, many of the features that were announce in January at BETT London 2019 are now starting to be added to Office365, and brand new features are popping up too.

For those more adventurous students and educators, being on the Monthly Channel will ensure they get the latest features as soon as possible which is awesome if you’re open to change and adopting a growth mindset as a life long learner. On the flipside, if you want to reduce change for your staff and students, then being on the semi-annual release may be the best compromise: new features still come but the pace of change is less rapid.

Whatever you choose, having some users on the targeted release cycle (or even the Insiders Program) is sensible as it allows for a sneak-peak at features before the general user population in your organisation receive those updates. This means any conflicts or  compatibility issues can be addressed, as well as having some users familiar with the newer features and able to train or evangelize the best updates to the rest of your organisation.

I am always keen to discuss what I've written and hear your ideas so leave a reply here...

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